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Cisco WebEx Now Works Sans Cloud

Cisco also expands collaboration technologies it offers via partners, including a 'rendezvous conferencing' option for videoconferencing.

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Cisco is expanding its program that allows partners to offer cloud services based on Cisco technologies, including a Hosted Collaboration Solutions (HCS) telepresence offering that includes the ability to make high-end videoconferences available without a reservation. At the same time, Cisco is introducing the first version of the WebEx webconferencing service that can function without a connection to the cloud.

The Cisco Hosted Collaboration Solution is a package of technologies partners like Verizon and Sprint use as part of their cloud services for unified communications and collaboration. Cisco said it's added 16 new partners this year, bringing the total to 34.

Eric Schoch, general manager of Cisco's Hosted Collaboration business unit, said the goal is to support "the boundary-less enterprise, allowing enterprise customers flexibility and choice," meaning they can mix and match cloud and on-premises technologies.

"Cisco's been executing in the cloud [for] some time; we're not new to the cloud," Schoch said. "WebEx is the second-largest business SaaS cloud in the world, second only to Salesforce." At the same time, Cisco is creating a version of the WebEx software that you can load onto a VMware server and run inside the firewall, called the WebEx Meeting Server. Scheduled for availability later this year, the WebEx server will address the requirements of privacy- or security-sensitive organizations that want the capabilities of WebEx but don't want to access them from the cloud. Another purpose will be to make WebEx conferencing available in parts of the world, such as Africa and the Middle East, where Cisco doesn't offer the cloud version for regulatory reasons, Schoch said.

[ AnyMeeting's free Web conferencing system is winning fans. See Free WebEx Competitor Gets Boost From VMware's Zimbra. ]

New HCS products scheduled for availability by the end of the year include:

-- HCS for Telepresence Exchange, which allows partners to offer "telepresence as a service" that can connect multiple locations. Customers buy or lease telepresence (high-end videoconferencing) equipment, and the service provider handles the back-end connectivity.

-- Telepresence At Your Command, a static-bridge service that allows customers to do "rendezvous conferencing" where they meet by accessing the same URL or entering the same code, without the need for an advance reservation.

-- Expanded HCS for Customer Collaboration, which makes it easier to manage multiple contact centers for customers with unified communications capabilities.

-- Additional unified communications options for HCS, adding products Cisco announced this summer to the HCS suite. This includes Jabber and Cisco's latest fixed mobile convergence and multimedia capabilities.

Jabber is Cisco's platform for instant messaging and impromptu voice- and videoconferences from PCs or mobile devices including the iPad (which Cisco has embraced as a mobility platform since dropping production of the Cius, its own enterprise mobility device). In general, Cisco is putting a greater emphasis on supporting connections from endpoints and applications other than its own in the name of "customer choice," Schoch said.

Cisco is also promising that in early 2013 Jabber will support seamless escalation from IM sessions to full WebEx conferences.

WebEx Meeting Server is a version of Cisco's online meeting technology that can be deployed inside the firewall.

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard and

Social media make the customer more powerful than ever. Here's how to listen and react. Also in the new, all-digital The Customer Really Comes First issue of The BrainYard: The right tools can help smooth over the rough edges in your social business architecture. (Free registration required.)

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